Review: The Descendants

There’s no place like Hawaii with its fresh air, warm waters and breathtaking islands.  You would think that living in Hawaii would mean living in paradise, right?  Well, according to George Clooney in The Descendants, “paradise can go f**k itself.”

Clooney plays Matt King, a Honolulu-based lawyer with an outgoing wife and two daughters – Alexandra, 17, and Scottie, 10.  He’s the sole trustee of a family trust that controls 25,000 acres of pristine land on the island of Kaua’i.  Because he works long hours, he likes to think of himself as the “back-up parent”.  However, all that comes to a stall when a Jet Ski accident leaves his wife comatose.  Matt’s circumstances are getting more difficult.  Scottie’s acting inappropriately to her friends, he has to sell the land for development before the trust expires in seven years, and he has to come to terms with the possible fact that his wife will never wake up from her coma.


Matt brings Alexandra home from boarding school to be his parental aid.  When Matt tells Alex her mother’s condition, Alexandra reveals a dark secret.  The reason she fought with mum the day before the accident was because Alexandra caught her having an affair with another man.  She was waiting for her to wake up from her coma before sharing the truth with Matt.  Unable to set this aside, accompanied by Alexandra, her slacker friend Sid and Scottie, Matt goes to track down his wife’s lover.

When you are watching The Descendants, you are seeing things from Matt’s point of view every step of the way.  At first you think he’s a good guy with a perfect family that’s going through tragic circumstances.  However, when his wife’s infidelity unfolds, you start to see that this perfect family was all in his head and he has to face the rotten relationships he has with his daughters and how uninvolved he was as a husband.


The Descendants is Alexander Payne’s first film since Sideways (Richard’s 3rd favourite movie).  Payne is known for these dramatic comedies about good people with rotten relationships and rotten people with good relationships.  In The Descendants, every character, in their own way, is rotten.  Alexandra is a drinker, Scottie’s misbehaving in school, Sid is a stoner, and Matt’s father-in-law acts bitter towards Matt himself.  However, when these people start to vent during this time of grief, you see how emotionally-involved they are, unlike Matt.  It’s raw, but very well-written.

The Descendants is still an enjoyable movie thanks to lots of witty dialogue and a funny supporting cast including Nick Krause as Sid, who’s obviously taken too much dope in the past.  The guy just has this dumb smile that works to hilarious effect.

George Clooney, for a guy who has been named one of the sexiest people in the world, is not afraid to show his age.  Here, he plays a failed husband and father trying to find his way and he does a terrific job.  Shailene Woodley’s is also extraordinary as Matt’s upfront and intelligent teenage daughter who holds the burden of her mother’s secret lover.  She and Clooney make an amazing onscreen pair.

Nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Film, Director and Actor, The Descendants is an emotional, hilarious, well-written and beautifully acted film about a family tragedy.

4.5/5 stars

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